Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Winning, to Won

The NY Times decided it’s time for front page acknowledgement that the situation in Iraq has clearly improved, dramatically, across the board and in almost all areas:

The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.

As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.

Gone are the negatives in the lead, the contrarian framing of the story in editorially favored tones. Sure there’s a slight effort of “sure things are good now, but that may not last,” but the effort is pale and weak, and shrivels in contrast.

When the Times picks illustrative anecdotes bathed in the flush of real life as lived by common people, happy people showing joy and relief, this isn’t just a one-off. (Or the Times editors would have made very sure to tell their readers that, explicitly and implicitly.)

None of that today. Time for the Gray Lady to yank off her bonnet, hike her skirts, and hustle herself over to a prominent place where she hopes all the new excitement and attention might flow over onto her. No apologies to them what brung her.

What a fortunate turn for that other contrarian, Hillary Clinton. By the time she needs to start reminding voters that, in fact, she voted in support of our victory in Iraq, her gal pal the Times will have restored and elevated the Victory narrative.

Bloggers and other news outlets across the political spectrum comment on emerging consensus on success in Iraq, whether acknowledged grudgingly like the Times, or as full-throated gloating.

AJ Strata explains “Why I See Victory Is At Hand In Iraq.”

I have to say I think we are moving from ‘winning’ in Iraq to ‘won’ in Iraq. As the stories of normalcy returning to Iraqi society continue to come out, there is less and less of a chance al-Qaeda, or one of its sister extremist groups, would even think of starting the bloody attacks again.

Strata asserts:

If al-Qaeda restarts the bloodbath now it will be clear to all it was not due to Americans - it will be the fault and crime of al-Qaeda.

Strata advances his argument by suggesting that having retreated in defeat so obviously, and peace taking hold, “al-Qaeda “lost its ability to use terrorism as a tactic in Iraq.”

I see victory at hand, but I don’t think I would make the claim Strata makes. I don’t doubt for one moment that any upsurge in violence, or a counter-offensive by Al Qaeda, however anemic, would be followed in nanoseconds by a resumption of the war against the war.

That said, Strata offers an insightful analysis into why the media, aided and abetted by many thoughtful and well-intentioned analysts who in good faith until recently saw only bad outcomes for our efforts in Iraq. For the war opponents on the Left and in media, Strata sees their failure as one resulting from arrogance.

(I would add hubris: in so quickly dismissing more positive views; assuming evil in the hearts and minds of their opponents; and thinking their very narrow perceptions all they needed to form an accurate view.)

Strata links to Dr. George Friedman at StratFor. Friedman has done some great work assessing the many facets of the war on terror and Iraq, but nevertheless retained a deep pessimism about probable outcomes and end states in Iraq. Strata notes Friedman’s explanation of his reassessment based on the changing (and improving) situation.

That’s a must read, if only as a noble example of how a real academic or analyst confronts revealed errors or shortcomings in their analysis. (None of us maintain anywhere near a major league batting record on prognostication, or even explication of complex trends. But we can all aspire to such transparency and humility in an ongoing dialogue towards better comprehension.)

Friedman objects (only somewhat) to characterizing his reassessment as an acknowledgement of an error and admission of mistake. Strata considers it a mistake, but one emblematic of too much analysis on Iraq:

Actually, the mistake was worse than that. It is the same mistake the news media is making now when claiming there is no reconciliation going on when there is. Reconciliation is being done without laws to mandate. It is being done but in a manner that the far left will not or does not recognize. There is oil revenue sharing and de-facto de-baathification. The Iraqis knew it was needed and are doing it. The arrogance from the West is in the thinking no good can be done without a law to make it happen. So the fact it their premise is wrong because they don’t or can’t see all the forces at work. The Iraqis are coming together in many ways. Laws on books are irrelevant to the actions and changes taking place. If your analysis requires a law on the books to recognize the forces at work in Iraq your analysis is crap.

Similarly with StratFor’s analysis, they failed to take into account Iraqi initiative and efforts. They looked to Patraeus’ efforts alone. Patraeus is an opportunist - as all good military and counter-insurgency people are. He would not announce a goal or an effort if it was tenuous - but he would exploit it. The problem many people have had in assessing which way Iraq would is the left too many variables out of the equations. Easy to see but driving variables. Initiative by the Iraqis to accelerate the path to success is the missing piece of many of the analyses I see out there. People naively assume nothing can be done by the Iraqis themselves. Bad assumption.

Isn’t that the way of it? Every Big Solution or Grand Idea that’s ever been contrived in History is premised on a patronizing arrogance: we will save you, or we will consume you, defeat you or exploit you. And the Joes and Janes of the world, given a chance, thumb their noses, and worse, and declare: “not if I have anything to say about it.”

Left to their own devices, people all over the world, throughout history, confound all the experts, the historians and diplomats and reporters and politicos. Give the people, the “little” ones, those in the great silent majority of any community or culture, just enough room to decide for themselves, and they may just surprise the heck out of all of us.

Strata concludes:

One thing the media and many people have stated (including myself) is Iraq would have to be won by the Iraqis themselves. Well folks, the Iraqis have stood up with us and won it. They deserve a big congratulations for what they did. And they have probably done more to protect themselves in this act than all the US military equipment in the world. As I said al-Qaeda dare not send this Arab Muslim country of Iraq back into bloodshed. They cannot. Because if they did, this time it would literally be a noose around their necks.

Contrary to what the US Congress, Democrat controlled, holds about Iraqis and the Iraqi people, how much they may feel compelled to Support our Troops but deride the courage and commitment of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi people have persevered.

How about “The Iraqi People” as Time Persons of the Year?

(Because the American Soldier has already received that distinction, and Lord knows they’ll never give it to the President, who wouldn’t quit on Iraq.)

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